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WINE EXPERIENCES - TEN OF THE BEST

The arrival of autumn brings with it a return to grown up pleasures after the long summer holidays – so what could be better than a short break with a great wine experience as the theme?

Ballymaloe House
Shanagarry Midleton Co Cork

Ballymaloe House - Shanagarry County Cork Ireland - Wine CellarIreland’s greatest country house, Ballymaloe has earned a unique position as a byword for the best of Irish hospitality. Good food has always been central to Ballymaloe – indeed it has become so much the focus that it is easy to forget the important contribution made by wine, beginning with the late Ivan Allen, when he and Myrtle first opened in 1964, and now under the caring management of his grandson Sacha Whelan and Sommelier Colm McCan. Like all the best wine lists, the wine offering at Ballymaloe is a constantly evolving work in progress, and wine weekend courses are offered regularly, in both the house and nearby Ballymaloe Cookery School, including the enormously popular twice-yearly intensive wine weekends with wine writer Mary Dowey –held in Ballymaloe’s beautiful venue, The Grainstore. Colm ‘simply mad about wine’ McCan, revels in his job and has overseen development of the ’new’ wine cellar, which is in the ancient rock foundation of the old castle and not only naturally temperature controlled, but atmospheric with it; lined with new wine storage bins made from Ballymaloe beechwood by Sacha Whelan, it is effectively spotlit and well worth a visit. (They also have a bank of practical Eurocave temperature controlled wine cabinets for dining room service.) And now, using an Apple iPad, they have the wine list in electronic format – is there no end to the bright ideas they can come up with at Ballymaloe? [Ballymaloe House was selected for the GCGuides annual Wine Award, 2010.]


Knockranny House Hotel & Spa
Knockranny Westport Co Mayo

Knockranny House Hotel - Westport County Mayo Ireland - wineA good location, comfortable accommodation, caring staff and excellent amenities are all reasons to stay here but, increasingly, it is the food and wine offering that attracts guests. La Fougère Restaurant – a large, tiered restaurant designed to allow all tables a view across the town to Croagh Patrick – has undemanding décor, allowing the memorable cooking of the talented and critically acclaimed head chef, Seamus Commons, to take centre stage; his playful cooking takes local ingredients and classic French technique as its starting point but has been allowed develop its own individualism, taking a particular delight in contrasts of flavour, texture and colour. Then there is the wine list which, with over 250 wines listed, is one of the most extensive in Mayo; all the major wine areas are represented and the Cellar list offers fine wines, mainly from Bordeaux and Burgundy. Guests are welcome to tour the walk-through wine cellar, and the hotel frequently offers themed food and wine events.


Kellys Resort Hotel & Spa
Rosslare Co Wexford

Kellys Hotel - Rosslare County Wexford Ireland - wineKelly’s has so many special features that it’s a gamble which comes to mind first: the hotel’s stunning art collection is a major highlight – but, equally, so is Bill Kelly’s promise of “A Cellar Full of Surprises”, which is best appreciated from the bistro bar, where you can see right into the hotel's cellar. The wine list is renowned for being informative, meticulously sourced, always changing, and excellent value. Many wines are directly imported - some from Bill’s father-in-law Paul Avril’s estate in Cahteauneuf-du-Pape - and there are treats a-plenty in the collection. Wine appreciation events are regularly held, the next scheduled for 31st October – 5th November 2010, with tastings hosted by two great producers - Jean Claude Ramonet, from the famous Domaine Ramonet (“The undisputed master of Chassagne-Montrachet”) and Laurent Pillot from Fernand and Laurent Pillot Estate. Together they aim to “ bring you on a journey, tasting Burgundies finest wines”. A great way to beat the glooms.


King Sitric Fish Restaurant & Accommodation
East Pier Howth Co Dublin

King Sitric Fish Restaurant & Accommodation - Howth County Dublin Ireland - wineWith a bright first floor restaurant taking advantage of the sea views and notes on menu covers not only stating proprietor-chef Aidan MacManus’s commitment to local produce but also listing Irish fish in six languages, it’s no secret that seafood is the star here - but the tone changes in autumn, when the local speciality, Baily beef, comes briefly into season, and there’s also game throughout the winter. Aidan MacManus famously oversees one of the country’s finest wine lists and the matching fine dining remains the main attraction for many, but the MacManus’s have recently added the informal and keenly priced Hugel Wine Bar to their great range of menu options; named after their great friend the late Johnny Hugel from the famous wine family of Alsace, suppliers to the King Sitric since 1983, it offers wines by the glass, full bar, good food or snacks in a convivial and open atmosphere - no reservations required. A recessionista treat, perhaps.


Ashford Castle
Cong Co Mayo

Ashford Castle - Cong County Mayo Ireland - wineThere is nowhere like Ashford Castle - and, thanks to an exceptionally talented team headed up by Stefan Matz in the kitchen and Robert Bowe front of house, the dining experience matches up to the magnificent backdrop. It is Ireland’s grandest castle hotel, with a history going back to the early 13th century; set in 350 acres of beautiful parkland, its essential characteristics are grandeur, formality and tranquillity. With panelled walls, oil paintings, suits of armour and magnificent fireplaces, it’s the perfect setting for an exceptional wine list – and it is indeed a stunning example of an old-fashioned grand hotel list. It has been Robert Bowe’s responsibility for nearly 20 years and, during that time, he has developed it from 250 listings to over 600, carefully sourced from about 15 suppliers. He gives recommendations by the glass to accompany individual dishes, also wines of the month - and the Castle often offers off-season winemaker dinners (contact the hotel for details).


Longueville House
Mallow Co Cork

Longueville House - Mallow County Cork IrelandChef William O’Callaghan, and his wife Aisling run this luxurious yet down-to-earth country house hotel overlooking the River Blackwater with warmth and professionalism. William, a dedicated Euro-Toques chef, is known for his commitment to the best seasonal, local produce – and it doesn’t get more local than this, with the river, farm and garden supplying fresh salmon in season, the famous Longueville lamb, and all the fruit and vegetables. Dining – in the cosy Presidents’ Restaurant and the lovely 19th century Turner conservatory alongside - is at the heart of everything at Longueville, and it’s a wonderfully romantic and interesting place to stay. Their wine list is renowned and they even make their own apple brandy ‘Eden’; this makes good use of extensive orchards and William has decided, with all the wet summers, it’s a better bet than the house wine “Coisreal Longueville” that his father, the late Michael O’Callaghan, persevered with valiantly despite the Irish weather. And Eden will do nicely.


The Twelve Hotel
Barna Village Galway Co Galway

The Twelve Hotel - Barna Galway City County Galway Ireland - wineIf ever there was a place to go and indulge in wine, the current favourite has to be The Twelve. Named after Connemara’s Twelve Bens mountains, this hotel introduced contemporary style to a traditional area - and for General Manager Fergus O' Halloran, who is also the Sommelier, wine is clearly a passion. A passion which has brought recognition and success too, with recent accolades including the only Wine Spectator Award to be given in Ireland this year, and the third consecutive year for The Twelve. There’s a special focus on wine at the first floor restaurant, West, with wines displayed on temperature-controlled racks behind glass, and a champagne bar within the room. Wines are listed by grape variety, ‘with’ and ‘without skins’ and the list ranges wide, with detailed notes and pages of other drinks. West's signature event, the Vintner Dinner, is the "Jazzed About Wine" event where participants sip the newest wines to the sounds of smooth jazz.


Delphi Lodge
Leenane Co Galway

Delphi Lodge - Leenane County Galway irelandThe high mountains around here create plenty of the rain that’s so beloved of fisherfolk, but, if fishing isn’t your reason for visiting, it’s good to know that the billiard table, the library and a serious wine list (great bottles at a very modest mark-up) can get visitors through a lot of wet days at Delphi. Famously, Peter Mantle’s ‘abnormally modest’ mark-ups reduce as the price (quality) rises; tasting notes are given for the wonderful house selection and, unusually, the main list has scores from Robert Parker, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines instead. This wonderful sporting lodge was built in the early 19th-century by the Marquis of Sligo, and is a joy to visit.


Sheen Falls Lodge
Kenmare Co Kerry

Sheen Falls Lodge - Kenmare County Kerry IrelandSet in a 300-acre estate just across the river from Kenmare town, this luxurious hotel is beautifully located and, in true Kerry style, welcoming fires always burn in the handsome foyer and in several of the spacious, elegantly furnished reception rooms. The restaurant, La Cascade, is designed in tiers to take full advantage of the waterfalls – which provide a dramatic backdrop for Executive Chef Heiko Reibandt’s fine food when floodlit at night. The atmospheric wine cellar is home to what may well be the most extensive hotel wine collection in Ireland, and is an understandable point of pride. Housing over 10,000 bottles, it details over 950 wines, with particular strengths in the classic European regions, especially Burgundy and Bordeaux, and a fine collection of ports and dessert wines. You can visit it to choose your own bottle, and port may also be served there after dinner; a daily Sommelier’s tour of the cellar is offered, also wine themed weekend breaks.


Newport House
Newport Co Mayo

Newport House - Newport County Mayo IrelandThis distinctive creeper-clad Georgian House overlooking the river and quay, was the home of the O’Donnells, once the Earls of Tir Connell. Today it symbolises all that is best about the Irish country house, and has been especially close to the hearts of fishing people for many years. But, in the caring hands of the current owner, Kieran Thompson, and an outstanding staff, the warm hospitality of this wonderful house is accessible to all its guests, not least in shared enjoyment of the club-fender cosiness of the little back bar. And many come especially for Kieran’s renowned wine list, which adds an extra magic to a meal at Newport. It includes classic French wines - about 150 clarets from 1961-1996 vintages, a great collection of white and red burgundies, excellent Rhônes and a good New World collection too. The foundations of this cellar go back many decades to a time when Kieran was himself a guest at Newport; great wines are a passion for him and, while acknowledging that they are irreplaceable, he offers them to guests at far less than their current retail value. Great lists of this scale and quality are almost a thing of the past, so it is a matter of celebration that such a collection should belong to a generous spirit like Kieran, who takes pleasure in allowing others to share his passion.

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